The Most Festive Things to Do in San Diego This Holiday Season

Celebrate the season with ugly sweaters, snow tubing, wine tasting, and more.

As San Diegans smugly stroll around in shorts and sandals while the rest of the nation freezes over, it’s easy to lose track of the seasons. The holidays are upon us, though, and there’s no shortage of special holiday events where you can get merry and bright. In fact, there are so many festivals and parties around town that it can be hard to decide which ones to go to. From wine tasting in Temecula to events at the city’s best museums, we’ve gathered the best experiences to help you plan your holiday fun accordingly. Happy holidays, San Diego!

Friday, December 16–Friday, December 23
San Diego Civic Theatre
The magic returns to the San Diego Civic Theatre as Golden State Ballet and musicians from the San Diego Symphony Orchestra present The Nutcracker. Pyotr Tchaikovsky’s musical score, together with dazzling scenery, costumes, and beautiful choreography tell the beloved holiday tale of Clara and her Nutcracker Prince, with help from Drosselmeyer, the Mouse King, and the Sugar Plum Fairy.

Grand Hyatt San Diego
Grand Hyatt San Diego

Through December 23
Rooftop Cinema Club is hosting the ultimate outdoor holiday film experience, perched atop the Manchester Grand Hyatt San Diego’s fourth floor deck. From Home Alone to Die Hard, you can enjoy showings of all your favorite holiday classics against a backdrop of stars and panoramic views of downtown San Diego. State-of-the-art wireless headphones and comfy, adjustable deck chairs with ample leg room let you sit back and enjoy the show in style. Upscale concessions include a full bar with movie-themed cocktails, craft brews, and fare like dry rub chicken wings and charcuterie boxes.

Temecula Chilled
Temecula Chilled | Photo courtesy of Visit Temecula Valley

Through Saturday, December 31
You’ll feel just like you’re in a Hallmark Christmas movie as Temecula Valley hosts Temecula Chilled, a month-long celebration of holiday décor, beautifully lit trees and merry amusements. Whether you make it a day trip or a longer stay in Temecula’s wine country, you can sip your way through festive wine tastings, watch Santa's Electric Light Parade in Old Town, and visit the various holiday markets for one-of-a-kind holiday shopping.

Through Sunday, January 8, 2023
Liberty Station
The Rady Children’s Ice Rink in the Arts District at Liberty Station returns for ice skating fun from 10 am to 10 pm every day except Christmas Day. A staple event in Liberty Station’s Salute the Season holiday program, net proceeds from your ticket price go toward the Peckham Center for Cancer and Blood Disorders at Rady Children’s Hospital’s Thriving After Cancer program. Your ticket is good all day, so you can skate long enough to work up an appetite, visit the Liberty Public Market or one of the many restaurants, bars, and tasting rooms scattered through the neighborhood, then return to the rink and burn off all those calories.

San Diego Bay Parade of Lights
San Diego Bay Parade of Lights

Sunday, December 18
Various locations
The 52nd annual San Diego Bay Parade of Lights—this year’s theme is “FantaSEA on the Bay”—is a wildly popular holiday boat parade that attracts more than 100,000 spectators, who line the shores from the starting point at Shelter Island to the end at the Ferry Landing in Coronado. Other areas to view the nearly 80 extravagantly decorated boats are Harbor Island, the Embarcadero, Seaport Village, and the Pier at Cesar Chavez Park. Public transportation and carpooling is encouraged—parking near the best viewing areas is limited.
Cost: Free

Through Sunday, January 8
Grab the kids and head to Holidays at LEGOLAND® California Resort for tons of festive decor, including a 30-foot LEGO® Christmas tree decked out with LEGO® ornaments, four festive zones—Peppermint Plaza, Santa's Tinseltown, Wizard's Winter Hill, and Sweet Sugar Square—each featuring seasonal entertainment and attractions, live entertainment, and holiday-themed food and beverages. For fun photo ops, hop on a sleigh with a life-size LEGO® Santa and his trusted LEGO® reindeer, join a festive sing-along show at Benny’s Ugly Sweater Party, and, of course, see real falling snow.

San Diego Model Railroad Museum
San Diego Model Railroad Museum

Saturday, December 17
Balboa Park
Beer lovers can celebrate National Ugly Christmas Sweater Day (of course it exists) as the San Diego Model Railroad Museum hosts its 7th Annual Ales n’ Rails Ugly Christmas Sweater Party. Enjoy unlimited tastings from local craft breweries including Mike Hess Brewing, Pizza Port Brewing Company, Colibre Cerveza Mexicana, Athletic Brewing Co., and Societe Brewing Company. There’ll be live music, amazing raffle drawing opportunities, food, and more, plus you’ll see all the museum model train exhibits up and running. Proceeds will go toward helping fund the museum’s unique exhibits, public programs, and the overall operations. 21+ only.

Sunday, December 18
El Cajon
Chabad of East County invites you to their Chanukah Celebration and Grand Menorah lighting. There’s also a Drone Gelt Drop, musical performances, magic shows, hot latkes and jelly donuts, Chanukah craft workshops, and more. RSVPs are not required but are appreciated.

Hotel del Coronado (1500 Orange Ave, Coronado, CA)
Hotel del Coronado (1500 Orange Ave, Coronado, CA)

Various dates
Hotel Del Coronado
Holidays at the Del are always magical, and this year they’ve transformed the beachfront Windsor Lawn into a winter wonderland of sparkling lights, enormous decorated trees, and snowy surprises at its Frosted by the Sea extravaganza. Enjoy Skating by the Sea, with proceeds benefiting the Make a Wish Foundation, and photos with Santa available on select days. Warm up with sips and treats at the Frostbite Lounge or in your own beachside igloo, roast marshmallows, and create a beautiful gingerbread cottage.
Cost: Varies with activity.

Through Sunday, January 8
San Diego Botanic Garden
Wander through 37 acres of illuminated plant collections and garden areas, including the Dickinson Family Education Conservatory, the Rainforest, the Lawn Garden, and more at San Diego Botanic Garden’s Lightscape. Bright animals, laser lighting, fire pits, and strolling musicians will be on hand nightly, and food concessions will have adult and non-alcoholic beverages and food available for purchase. The gardens will also be open nightly through Sunday, January 8, 2023, with the exception of Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. Reservations are required and can be made online.

The Old Globe
Ebenezer Scrooge’s BIG San Diego Christmas Show | The Old Globe

Through Saturday, December 24
Old Globe Theatre
We’re all familiar with Charles Dickens’ holiday story, A Christmas Carol, but Ebenezer Scrooge’s BIG San Diego Christmas Show at the Old Globe Theatre reimagines it as a comedy set in San Diego! Quick, witty and extravagantly theatrical, it’s a family-friendly retelling of the classic tale, full of music, laughter and a heartwarming lesson about the spirit of giving.

Through Saturday, January 2
Del Mar Fairgrounds
Experience a magical evening, filled with amazing light displays, snow tubing, and visits with Santa Claus at Del Mar Fairgrounds holiday Snow-N-Glow Holiday Festival. Featuring over one-million lights, unlimited snow tubing with real snow, unlimited ferris wheel rides, fire pits, and live entertainment, Snow-N-Glow is one of the few events that will be open on Christmas Day.

Enchanted Village
Photo courtesy of Enchanted Village

Friday, December 16–Thursday, December 22
Lemon Grove
At Noah Homes’ annual Enchanted Village, you’ll walk through acres of holiday fun, including over one-million lights, interactive displays, magical cottages, live entertainers, a forest of giant candy canes, light tunnels, and other festive decorations. Santa will be at the Enchanted Village every night for photos. Proceeds support the residents of Noah Homes, a nonprofit that provides housing, services, and advocacy for adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

Through Friday, December 30 (except Christmas Day)
Old Town Trolley Tours
Sit back and let your elf conductor take you on a tour of the best holiday sights on Old Town Trolley’s Holiday Lights & Sights Tour. You’ll see the festive lights of Old Town, Embarcadero, and Balboa Park on your 75-minute ride, including a 15-minute stop at Seaport Village for holiday happenings. Reservations are required, and accessible tours are available by calling 619-298-8687, option #0, at least 24 hours in advance.

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Mary Beth Abate is a San Diego-based freelance writer by way of Chicago and Los Angeles. Her hobbies include yoga, pickling and fermenting stuff, reading cookbooks and drinking fabulous gin. Keep up with her experiments @MaryBeth_Abate.